EghtsadOnline: The Swiss government's payment channel for humanitarian goods to Iran, known as Swiss Humanitarian Trade Arrangement (SHTA), is plagued by delays, raising concerns about the viability of the move.
However, the foreign ministry in Bern has blamed the delays on the coronavirus pandemic. This was conveyed in response to an email sent by swissinfo.ch asking whether or not the channel is still operational.
“Unfortunately there have been delays due to Covid-19…Interested companies, particularly in the pharmaceutical sector, were faced with other priorities overnight. However, we would also like to emphasize that a number of companies have already been approved and that first transactions should be carried out shortly.”
The SHTA, created after Donald Trump new economic sanctions against Iran in May 2018, is a payment mechanism to enable the delivery of humanitarian goods to Iran.
It is “available to Swiss firms in the food, pharmaceutical and medical sectors”, according to the Swiss Economics Ministry. “Under SHTA, the US Treasury Department will provide the banks involved with assurances that financial transactions can be processed in accordance with US legislation.”
Despite the mounting US pressure on Iran, the Swiss government has been trying to maintain contacts with Iran, in accordance with its "talk to all countries" policy.
Switzerland represents US and Saudi interests in Iran, and of Iran in Saudi Arabia and Canada.
Washington said on Feb 27 that the SHTA was “fully operational” but Iran’s Tasnim News Agency carried an article on May 9 entitled, “Iran gets nothing from Swiss Humanitarian Channel”.
It said that the “moribund state of the channel contrasts with the fanfare with which the Trump regime announced it” and that “informed observers say the channel is structured in a way that it places major hurdles in the way of companies wanting to sell humanitarian supplies to Iran”.
Still Gathering Information!
The Swiss Foreign Ministry had said in June that “interested Swiss export and trading companies are in the process of collecting the necessary information and documents and preparing them for submission to SECO [Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs]. After successful examination by SECO, the companies can start processing the transactions.”
SECO declined to say which companies had been approved or to give further details. However, trial operations of the channel began in January, during which Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis supplied Iran €2.3 million (CHF2.4 million) worth of cancer drugs and medicine needed for organ transplants.
“For the benefit of Iranian patients, Novartis worked with the Swiss and US authorities and Banque de Commerce et Placements [Swiss bank] to achieve a first payment channel transaction for the shipment of three lifesaving drugs: Sandostatin LAR (used to treat certain types of cancer), Myfortic and Neoral (both immunosuppressants),” Novartis told swissinfo.ch.
But the pharmaceutical firm declined to say more, adding only that “the spring 2020 launch of the Swiss payment channel for commercial shipments of medicine may improve Iranian patient access by increasing the predictability and stability of the future supply of medicine to Iran.”
Tehran said it was unimpressed and also pessimistic about the Swiss payment channel, saying that there would indeed be no need for a (separate) license if export of humanitarian goods had been authorized.
Back in May, President Hassan Rouhani urged Switzerland to improve the efficiency of the financial mechanism it has established for trade with Iran so that Tehran can unlock part of its frozen overseas assets.